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Food and Agriculture

We might have hoped that by the 21st century hunger would be a scourge of the past. But the problem is actually worse now than it was a decade ago. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in seven people on the planet are undernourished. Most of those 925 million souls live in the Global South, where food prices have soared in recent years due to speculation, high oil prices, extreme weather, corporate control of the food system, and the increasing diversion of cereals to livestock and bio-fuel production. People do not go hungry because there is not enough food in the world; they go hungry because they are poor. But the deadly combination of population growth, desertification and accelerating climate change could change that sooner than anyone cares to imagine.

In Canada, it is not hunger, but obesity and waste that are pervasive. Nevertheless, food insecurity affects more than two million adults and children, particularly in Aboriginal communities and among low-income groups. And apart from the stark reality of privation, many questions arise about the kind of food we produce, who controls it, how we produce it, whether the methods are sustainable, how it’s distributed, how prices are determined, and so on. In this feature, we look at just a few of the moral, political, environmental, and health issues surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of food.

Devlin Kuyek provides a critical overview of the global food crisis, focusing on how both agribusiness corporations and the financial sector have profited from rising prices. He also takes a look at the global agricultural land grab. (Dylan Roberts complements Kuyek’s discussion with research showing that although foreign investment in farmland predominantly affects the Global South, Canada is by no means shielded from this trend.) Kuyek concludes with a glance at the global movement rising to challenge the corporate food system and champion food sovereignty, a concept that refers to “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

Food sovereignty is also the governing principle of the Canadian People’s Food Policy Project, whose recent report “Resetting the Table,” excerpted in this CD feature, examines some of the problems plaguing our food system and puts forward the elements of a socially just and environmentally-friendlier national food policy for Canada. Ellen Smirl’s article shares with the Food Policy Project a concern with ensuring access to fresh, healthy, affordable food in poorer neighbourhoods. It explores the limits of the locavore movement – which advocates eating food that is locally produced – from the vantage point of class.

While Canada ranks as a leading agricultural producer and exporter, Chris Benjamin points out that the proportion of food imports in Canada continues to grow, partly because agricultural land is shrinking under pressure from urbanization. In his article, he considers some of the measures being taken by provincial governments to protect farmland.

In addition to what we eat and where it comes from, there’s the question of who many of us eat. The killing of animals for food is a major part of what Krzysztof Forkasiewicz aptly calls the “largest unaddressed system of oppression in the history of the human species.” Animal welfare and animal liberation are largely uncharted territory for CD, and to begin giving these questions some serious consideration we have invited Stephanie Brown of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals to explain the conditions to which animals are subjected to in industrial livestock operations and tell us about the struggle to mitigate the worst forms of cruelty.

Finally, and fittingly for our food issue, we offer a CD first: recipes for a red and green feast – red because of the names, green because they are almost entirely vegan. Here’s hoping they will whet your appetite for making the world a fairer and healthier place for all its inhabitants.

This article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Food Issue).


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